Rwandan Youth Build Peace Through Livelihoods Projects
The youth recently had a chance to plan and lead peace-building activities in their communities as part of IREX's Youth For Change (Y4C) program. IREX designed the two-year program to train and empower the country's burgeoning youth population to resolve long-standing conflicts. It partnered with two local NGOs to help recruit and engage promising young leaders from 29 districts. They then applied for small grants to start up their own reconciliation projects.
That many of them chose to start livestock and vegetable farms was a clear sign that poverty remains a root cause of conflict in the nation.
Y4C was funded by the United States Agency for International Development's Office of Conflict Management and Mitigation (USAID/CMM).
• Trained 97 youth leaders from around the country in leadership and conflict management
• Provided about $37,000 in small grants to 39 youth groups with proven capacity
• Reached 115,000 people through community development projects
"IREX's way of working is that it supports the partners to develop and maximize participants' potential capacities, accompanies them in the process of development and at some point lets them carry on using their own homegrown practices," said Eugene Gatari, the program's manager in Rwanda. "In many cases, these youth set up projects that gave them a sense of purpose and a stake in a peaceful and prosperous society."
The youth groups' economic activities were simple, yet significant. They would use a small grant to purchase rabbits, goats, poultry or pigs. The groups kept some of the animals for income to ensure the sustainability of their services. The rest they gave to those in need as not only a source of income, but also as a powerful symbolic peace offering. For example, one youth group gave a rabbit to a widowed genocide survivor, and when it reproduced, she gave one of the offspring to a jailed genocide perpetrator's poor wife.
"I received a lot of profit from the youth group because of the pigs," said a young man from Burera. "I used the manure as fertilizer for my garden, and now it produces more crops. Now I can pay my children's school fees and medical insurance."
The projects grabbed the attention of local authorities from UNICEF and the government. In one case, they provided about two million additional Rwandan Francs to build an office and expand a poultry farm. Others provided land and public meeting places to work.
The activities also helped youth gain marketable skills like management and leadership, improving their resumes.
"I am planning for different jobs now because I have the background," said one young man from Kigali.
In addition to the economic initiatives, the youth sought to bring about more traditional reconciliation as well. Many held special performances at correctional facilities and began dialogue with genocide perpetrators. One man took courage and invited the family that killed his parents to his brother's wedding. They came. Another female from Kigali made amends with acrimonious in-laws.
"It wasn't easy for both families to come together and talk, it really didn't go well at first," she said. "But later on, they came to understand that it was important to reconcile. We are now getting along."
Youth for Change was funded by the United States Agency for International Development's Office of Conflict Management and Mitigation (USAID/CMM).